Facebook’s parent company Meta announced this week it’s bringing a new data center to town and with it came a slew of questions.
Two years after Governor Brad Little signed legislation giving a tax break for data centers, Meta announced to great fanfare its plans to bring a facility to Kuna and bring 1,200 jobs and water infrastructure with it. But, how will this project impact industrial growth east of Kuna? What will Meta’s promised water project look like?
Here’s what we know (and don’t know) so far.
Water, water, water
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Meta’s promise to “add more water than we consume” to Boise’s watershed.
Aaron Scheff, the administrator for Idaho Department of Environmental’s Boise regional office, told BoiseDev on Thursday the department has not been approached by Meta requesting information or applying for a permit related to any water quality project in connection to the Kuna data center.
When asked about the details of their plans to add water to the Boise watershed, Meta spokesperson Melanie Roe directed BoiseDev to a blog post on Facebook’s website stating the companies goal to be “water positive” by 2030. The post said Facebook evaluates water risk for its projects and works on water quality, improving irrigation systems and “shores up water resources at the basin level.”
The page listed several water restoration projects Meta is currently working on, but did not offer any details about its plans in Kuna. The company touts a partnership with the Colorado River Indian Tribes to help restore water to Lake Mead in Arizona, work to facilitate groundwater recharge in New Mexico’s Upper Rio Grande Valley and a wetlands treatment project in Richland Texas. Another project includes a partnership with Eagle Mountain City in Utah to use water from the data center to water city parks.
Data centers to support large tech companies are sprouting up all over the country where they rely on hefty amounts of water to keep the rows and rows of servers cool. According to Time magazine, a Google data center in Mesa Arizona is guaranteed for 1 million gallons of water per day for cooling and could use up to 4 million gallons if the project “hits milestones.”
Roe said Facebook discloses the amount of water used in each of its data centers annually and will do so once the Kuna project is complete, but she did not provide an estimate for how much water the Idaho project would use. Water usage amounts for Meta’s data centers in 2020 ranged from 9.2 million gallons per year at a facility in New Albany Ohio to 170.39 million gallons per year at a center called the “East Coast Leased Data Center Facility.”
Of this water, Meta says 17% of it is recycled from other sources, 1% is pumped from the ground and the rest is provided by local utilities.
To power the facility, Meta filed an application in December with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for Idaho Power to provide the juice for the new data center. All customers requiring more than 20 megawatts are required to go through this approval process. The application by Idaho Power used the name Brisbie LLC, a shell company owned by Foxtrot Acquisition Corp of Deleware, which is in turn tracks to a company that shares an address with Meta in Menlo Park, CA.
According to a release from Idaho Power, Meta plans to construct new renewable energy sources to 100% power the data center’s operations. The exact specifications of what the company plans to build have not been determined yet, but Idaho Power spokesperson Jordan Rodriguez told BoiseDev “most likely” the project will be powered by a combination of solar and wind, but specifics aren’t nailed down yet.
Industrial park could get a boost from urban renewal
Meta’s data center will be constructed at the intersection of Cole and Kuna Mora Road on the far eastern edge of Kuna’s area of impact in a private industrial park owned by Boise-based firm Gardner Company.
Part of Meta’s project will be a $50 million sewer plant constructed by the company and turned over to the City of Kuna to operate. Kuna Economic Development Director Morgan Treasure told BoiseDev the plant will be built over Meta’s capacity needs so it can expand in the future to bring more tenants into the far-flung industrial park. This sewer plant will not serve residential customers closer to Kuna’s downtown.
To pay for further expansions to the sewer plant and other infrastructure, the City of Kuna is in the process of creating an urban renewal district that encompasses Gardner’s 325-acre industrial park and a few parcels owned by other property owners. This would allow the additional tax revenue from projects in the otherwise undeveloped area to be used to pay for the infrastructure improvements necessary to grow the park.
In December according to Ada Co. property transfer records, Gardner Co. sold several parcels near the corner of Kuna Mora Rd. and Cole Rd. to Brisbie LLC, which after BoiseDev asked, Meta confirmed was the site of the data center
Kuna City Council approved the feasibility study for the urban renewal district last week, before the project was announced. It is now set to begin working on the economic analysis required to greenlight a new urban renewal area.
Gardner Company Executive Vice President David Wali told BoiseDev the area already has the “backbone” for an industrial area, with rail tracks and a handful of other industrial manufacturers. He said Meta’s investment in the sewer plant will help kickstart his industrial park with heavier industry and bring more employment opportunities, while also not adding stress on the road infrastructure because of how undeveloped the area is.
“There will be a slight increase in traffic for the construction period, but after that a data center doesn’t use that much in the way of human capital,” Wali said. “The other industrial users will be grow out there, but they won’t be an Amazon where you have a huge number of people occupying a huge number of square feet of space packing boxes. When you talk about places doing production, you have a lot of ground but very little people.”
Ada County Highway District spokesperson Shandy Lam said it is too early to say if the data center will require transportation improvements. The first step will be for Meta to complete a traffic study and then ACHD will make a recommendation to the Kuna City Council on what should be required for the project to move forward.
Were there cash incentives?
Aside from the tax break from the Idaho legislature, Matt Borud with the Department of Commerce, said Meta did not receive any other incentives from the state to open the data center.
The tax break allows companies to skip paying sales tax on server equipment or construction materials for a data center, as long as it employs at least 30 people in Idaho after starting up that are “at or above” the average wage in the county it operates in, and make a capital investment of at least $250 million.
Meta’s data center is expected to support 1,200 jobs at the peak of construction. Construction workers are hard to find in a tight labor market. The shortage of workers is a factor in rising construction costs for homes.
On an ongoing basis, 100 people will work at the facility once it is open and operational.
Roe said the finished data center will employ “technical operations (staff), electricians, air conditioning and heating specialists, logistics staff, security, culinary, and more” but did not provide any more specifics on how many staff members in what fields will be employed.
She also declined to share what wages Meta will pay, but she said the company will pay “competitive” salaries.
Leaders touted the new jobs that Meta would provide during a news conference Wednesday. Data from the Boise Valley Economic Partnership shows it would not be on the list of the area’s 30 largest employers. It would employ about one-quarter as many people as a recently announced Scheels sporting goods store planned for Meridian.
BoiseDev’s Don Day contributed reporting.